Robert Treggs / Android Authority
Samsung is the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world and has held that crown for a few years now. Many even associate the company with Android itself. In fact, Samsung has a lot to boast about, from a solid product presence across price levels to halo technologies like the Galaxy Z Fold series. But it wasn’t always this way – the first Samsung phone hit the market long before there was Android. The company hasn’t always been a market leader either, with stumbles like Bada OS and Tizen along the way.
So in this article, let’s go down memory lane and revisit some of Samsung’s first attempts to build a cell phone, when it embraced Android, and how the company became the success story we know today.
When did Samsung start making phones?
You might be surprised to learn that Samsung is almost 100 years old at this point. In fact, when the company was founded in 1938, it did not manufacture or sell electronics at all. That would come later in 1969, under the subsidiary Samsung Electronics. The company’s first cellular product was the SC-1000 in-car phone in 1985, but it failed to gain traction due to quality issues. Samsung Electronics returned to the drawing board and produced the SH-100 three years later in 1988.
Samsung’s first cell phone was the SH-100. It hit the Korean market in 1988.
The SH-100 (pictured above) was not only Samsung’s first mobile cell phone, but also the first Korean-made phone. However, mobile phones were seen as luxury items at the time. The high prices mean that Samsung only sold a few thousand units of each generation. However, the Korean giant released new models every year.
Five years later, the persistence paid off and Samsung brought the SH-770 to critical acclaim. It has a slimmer and lighter design than its predecessors and is sold under the “Anycall” brand name. With a larger marketing budget, Samsung was able to gain consumer confidence and market share. By 1995, more than half of the cell phones sold in Korea were made by Samsung. A year later, the company signed a $600 million deal with Sprint to develop and sell CDMA phones in America.
After capturing about half of the world’s CDMA device market, Samsung has turned its sights on GSM and international expansion. In the years leading up to the company’s first Android smartphone, it challenged Nokia and Motorola in most major markets.
Samsung’s first Android phone: Galaxy GT-I7500
In 2009, Samsung announced its first Android smartphone: the Galaxy GT-I7500. At the time, Android was just one of many mobile operating systems in the company’s portfolio. You can get a Samsung phone running REX-based Java, Bada OS, Windows Mobile or even Nokia’s own Symbian OS.
The original Samsung Galaxy phone featured a 3.2-inch AMOLED touchscreen – a standout feature at the time. And at a price tag of around £500, it wasn’t a coincidence. It was clear that the GT-I7500 was aimed at the high-end market.
The Samsung Galaxy GT-I7500 runs Android 1.5 with a bit of extra customization, unlike HTC Sense’s user interface and MotoBlur’s social-focused interface. Along with an unnamed Qualcomm chip operating at 528MHz, reviewers at the time praised the phone for its fast performance and responsiveness.
The original Samsung Galaxy ran Android 1.5 and only got one major Android update.
However, running an unmodified version of Android also means that the original Samsung Galaxy missed out on some key features against the competition. Multi-touch functions like pinch and zoom, for example, were absent because the feature wasn’t added to stock Android until Eclair 2.0 was released.
However, Samsung’s first Android phone was well received and paved the way for the Samsung Galaxy S a year later. The latter brought several improvements – a more elegant design, a 1 GHz processor, and a larger 4.0-inch screen, among others. Samsung eventually sold more than 25 million units of the Galaxy S. And while the company continued to release phones with non-Android operating systems for a few years, that ended in 2017 with the Samsung Z4.
See also: The history of the Samsung Galaxy S series.
Were Samsung phones such a big deal back in the day?
Chris Carlon / Android Authority
While the original Samsung Galaxy and Galaxy S were successful enough, they faced stiff competition from the likes of HTC, Motorola, Nokia, and even BlackBerry. According to Statista data, Samsung’s share of the global market did not exceed 5% until 2010. By comparison, Nokia captured nearly 40% of the market at that point.
In fact, the company didn’t gain traction in the Android phone market and the broader phone market until the Galaxy S2 and S3. However, Samsung’s fortune quickly turned around after that. The Galaxy S3 was one of the first Android smartphones to compete properly with the iPhone. In fact, Samsung sold nearly as many units as the iPhone 5 that year.
Retroactively: 10 years later, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 tells the story of a different time
At its peak in 2012, Samsung made one in three smartphones sold globally. The momentum lasted for a few years until Chinese brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi began to compete with Samsung in the price sub-segment. But even today, the Korean giant has not completely lost its foothold as it accounts for nearly 21% of the global smartphone shipments.
The legacy of Samsung’s first Android phone continues to this day as Samsung’s AMOLED displays are still prevalent in the smartphone industry. Likewise, the Galaxy S has become one of the longest-running series of phones to work alongside the iPhone. These successes not only cemented Samsung as the top Android brand, but also enabled research and development in cutting-edge technologies such as foldable smartphones.
In-depth reading: The evolution of the Android operating system over the years